My friend and colleague Christine Kraemer wrote over at the Patheos website recently about how desperately kids need touch – not just for emotional development, but literally for biological development – and how that touch is being systematically taken away in many school environments and elsewhere. More and more, non-parent adults are not allowed to hug children, kids are not allowed to touch each other, and the entire culture of touch and kids has been boiled down to preventing sexual abuse.
But it turns out that if infants don’t receive enough touch, they can literally die. And even older children can experience developmental delays from lack of touch early on, and violence in teenagers has been correlated with neglect. In the attempt to protect our children from predators, we are contributing to a world where our children, deprived of touch, may grow up to become them.
In this culture, then, a shift needs to occur. One pathway in this direction is toward a consent culture: where asking permission to touch, and believing that each individual is the best judge of whether they want to receive it, is the norm. The more we cultivate this culture of consent, the more we make asking – and not just denying, but also granting! – permission the norm, the more safe touch we cultivate in the world.
Christine includes some great exercises for elementary aged kids in her post, to help practice asking, saying no, and saying yes. It reminded me a lot of this post of mine that was very popular some time back, describing kids playing with splashing in the pool. Both of these things make me wish that this topic was alive when I was a child – painfully shy, introverted, weird, and often picked on and touched in ways I didn’t want but had no tools to stop. The idea of touching other kids or being touched on purpose never even occurred to me, though I longed to belong to a group. I believe that teaching kids how to ask for touch, how to refuse it or accept it, and how to respect others’ boundaries and personal space could go a long way, not just toward getting people the touch they need to grow, but toward alleviating loneliness, shyness, and fear.